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D Swarup, the man responsible for ushering in Indian pension fund reforms, has retired
Pension fund regulator D Swarup, the man responsible for ushering in Indian pension fund reforms, has retired. Girish Chandra Chaturvedi, currently additional secretary of the Department of Financial Services, has been given the additional charge as chairman, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA).
The PFRDA is still waiting for its statutory powers due to non-clearance of the PFRDA Bill by Parliament. In the absence of statutory powers, the PFRDA has been functioning as an acting regulator.
In May 2009, the interim regulator, then headed by Mr Swarup, launched the New Pension Scheme (NPS) for government employees who had joined service on or after 1 January 2004, which was subsequently extended it to all citizens.
Mr Swarup was heading PFRDA since 2005 when the pension fund regulator was established. The PFRDA Bill, initially introduced in March 2005 with the objective of establishing the NPS, has been languishing for four years. It has now been scheduled to be reintroduced in the current session of Parliament.
India has a workforce of about 4.5 crore, out of which about 85% do not have any access to a formal pension plan. The remaining 15% are mostly government employees, who could avail civil service pensions like Employer Provident Fund (EPF) or Employer Provident Scheme (EPS). However, with these schemes, people often found their savings locked into government bonds for as long as 40 years. The more recent EPS scheme is already in deficit and unsustainable in the long-term. This has led to a debate on reforming pension schemes across the workforce in the country.
Last week, Mr Swarup, as head of the Committee on Investor Awareness and Protection, recommended elimination of commission structure from the financial markets with effect from April 2011. The committee said that after the cut-off date, financial sector intermediaries should be paid a fee that is negotiated with the consumer of the product.
RTGS, which was designed to provide real-time settlement of payments, is failing to do so due to crashing and hanging of servers across banks
The growing incidence of real time gross settlement (RTGS) servers hanging or crashing across banks has resulted in a delay in transactions, so much so that lenders have to complete these transactions on the next day.
According to banking sources, RTGS systems have been hanging or crashing frequently, causing a delay for customers as well as bank employees.
“The reasons behind the servers hanging are the lack of connectivity between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and other banks, and bad networking between the servers of banks as well as the central bank,” said an official from a State-run bank.
There are also problems related with leased lines, routers and modems while transmitting messages. Since RTGS requires all the concerned parties to work simultaneously, any minute error can cause problems with the systems, the official added.
He further said that the RBI insists that deals are settled on the very same day, but at times these deals are being delayed due to server problems, and there is no assurance over the proper functioning of the system.
According to an official from the RBI, the recent problems with the servers have been happening because the apex bank has installed a new software patch in the RTGS system. However, many bankers said that the problems have been around since the past few months.
RTGS is a centralised payment system set up in 2004 by the RBI where inter-bank payment instructions are processed and settled, continuously throughout the day, as and when the instructions are received and finally accepted by the system. As a funds transfer mechanism, it is probably the fastest possible money transfer system through the banking channel.
The number of bank branches offering the RTGS service has increased from 43,512 to 55,000 during 2008-2009. The daily average volume of transactions is 90,000 for about Rs1,200 billion, of which 82,000 transactions worth Rs980 billion pertained to customer transactions as of end-August 2009.
There is no unanimity among the representative body and mutual fund players on what ought to constitute common operational policies
There is a simmering discontent brewing among a large number of funds that are part of the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), with the way the industry lobby AMFI functions.
According to a chief executive of a mid-size and fast-growing fund, there is no unanimity among the players on what ought to constitute common operational policies. “The main reason for this is that AMFI is really being run by a small cabal of large funds who set the policies, but are the first to break the rule in their self-interest.” One example of this is the upfront commissions they had agreed to pay but undercut the same in the end.
Sometime in September, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had called some of these large funds and encouraged them to have a uniform first-year commission instead of the massive undercutting that was going on.
SEBI told the funds that it was concerned over the viability of the fund industry and suggested that some large players decide what the first-year commission would be and ensure that it is maintained by the rest of the industry.
The market regulator had a closed-door meeting with eight large players and gave them autonomy to decide on the pricing for the entire industry. It was AMFI’s job to ensure the uniformity. The eight fund houses decided that the commission would be 125 basis points.
AMFI issued a directive that all players should maintain this rate. The players gave their word and this 125 basis points commission was to be applicable from 1st October.
Amazingly, out of these eight funds, five funds had already released brokerages in excess of 125 bps the day before it was supposed to have come into force, making a mockery of the whole exercise, said a source from the fund industry. “I have written proof of this,” said the source, requesting anonymity, even as he shared the evidence with Moneylife.
There are also complaints that funds often get to know of major plans and decisions from the media before even the first formal discussion has taken place under the leadership of AMFI. A recent case in point is the discussion about mutual fund trading platforms in which AMFI was planning to take a 30% stake.
“We came to know of this major decision from registrar and transfer agents and a few large distributors, not from AMFI,” said the CEO of an Asset Management Company (AMC). He is lobbying the other funds to ensure that there is far greater transparency in AMFI’s functioning. But given the fact that such efforts have not borne fruit in the past, there is little chance of any significant change in the system.